Tell your loved ones to donate

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with organ donor campaigners Joe Brolly and Shane Finnegan, and MLA Jonathan Bell. (DERR0512SJ25)
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with organ donor campaigners Joe Brolly and Shane Finnegan, and MLA Jonathan Bell. (DERR0512SJ25)

A new campaign aimed at increasing the number of organ donors in Northern Ireland has been announced in Belfast.

It is backed by Derry Journal columnist, and former All Ireland winner Joe Brolly and his friend, Shane Finnegan to whom he donated one of his kidneys.

Joe Brolly, who won the All Ireland with Derry in 1993, donated one of his kidneys to his friend, a fellow coach at St Brigid’s GAC in Belfast. The operation at Guy’s Hospital in London was initially deemed a success but ultimately failed.

Joe Brolly said the campaign urges people to sit down and talk to their loved ones about donation before it’s too late. He said it’s vital families should discuss in advance what should happen to the organs if a loved one dies as relatives always have the final say even if someone has signed the organ register.

At present, 38% of families here do not consent to the donation of their loved one’s organs, when faced with this choice. In other parts of Europe, the refusal rate is 15%.

“The problem is the current system is confusing, and it’s confusing for this reason,” Joe Brolly told the ‘Journal. “People think if they go on the organ donor register that the job is done, so that if anything ever happens to them their organs can be taken. They don’t realise, in fact, that can never happen; that there has to be someone there - a relative, a loved one at the hospital to sign consent forms and to give consent in person.

“Should you go in with a letter and a donor card and a letter saying, ‘Look, I do not have any relations but I want all my organs to be used in the event of my death’, they will not be taken. Doctors will not take them - it is the law, the European legislation. It’s a total waste of time and it’s actually a block to organ donation because what happens is that people go online, they fill out the details and become a donor and then they don’t tell anyone else.”

The campaign is backed by the Northern Ireland Executive and has all-party support at Stormont.

“The crucial thing is that you discuss it with your family because it’s your family and your loved ones who make the decision. Have the conversation,” said the father of five.

“Everyone wants to donate but the problem is here, if you haven’t discussed it with your family and you’re at the last minute at the hospital and you’re faced with a horrendous situation like that, you’re not going to consent because you’ve never discussed it and you don’t know what your loved one’s wishes are and you’re not prepared for it yourself, you’re not ready for it.

“What we found was that people who donated, families who donated, they always say to you the same thing, ‘aw, we talked about this; we agreed that if anything happened to any of us let’s let another human being take life from that’. It’s such a simple thing; it clearly works, we’ve done all the statistical work.”

Shane Finnegan said family consent is at the centre of the campaign.

“There was a gap in terms of awareness, and I believe this will start to help to start a key process in donation and transplantation,” he said.

Dr Eddie Rooney, chief executive of the Public Health Agency, said: “Research has shown that families who are aware of their loved ones’ wishes are more likely to donate their organs should the situation arise. This campaign is targeted at bringing about behavioural change and encouraging people to sit down together and have the conversation in the run-up to Christmas, which is a traditional time for families to come together.

“In Northern Ireland almost 200 people are currently waiting for a transplant and sadly the chance will come too late for many, with 15 people each year dying while on the waiting list. Through the organ donation discussion day on December 11 we want to ensure as many families as possible are aware of the benefits of organ donation and have the knowledge of what their loved ones would want.”